The co-owner of Copper & Ink restaurant in Blackheath, south London, tells Jennie Milsom what qualities she looks for in a wine and how guests' spending habits have changed since lockdown.
What is the philosophy behind the wine list at Copper & Ink?
We want there to be something for everyone. Competitive price points and some recognisable wines are a must, but we don't take ourselves too seriously and we want to have fun with the wine list. That remains one of the overriding factors when we change up the list. ‘Is it fun? Is it a bit bonkers? We'll take it!'
What qualities make a wine stand out for you?
I love things that are a bit unusual. The wines where you know the vineyard has taken a chance and that the winemaker is showing their passion and showcasing their terroir – that's definitely what makes them stand out over a typical Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot. I tend to pick up more savoury flavours in wine so will gravitate towards those that have what the French call a note of ‘merde'.
Are there any emerging wine origins or varietals that you are excited about seeing more of?
I'm currently obsessed with Georgian, Japanese and Hungarian wines. These countries have been making wine for an insanely long time but are only now becoming more commercial. The indigenous grapes of Hungary and Georgia have such interesting flavours and textures of which I definitely think we will see more. My favourites right now include the Grünspitz from Hungary and the Kisi from Georgia.
How tricky is it to strike a balance between your dream list and one that keeps guests happy?
It can be quite difficult, as you do need to have those recognisable crowdpleasers on the list – which I'm all for – but I would definitely love to have more natural wines. To strike a balance, we have recognisable grape varieties – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, etc – from winemakers who are doing something a little different with them. Hopefully this keeps our guests happy and excited.
How important is price point when creating a wine list?
I wouldn't say we have any limits, but we are always conscious to offer a comprehensive list with something for every palate and every budget. By the bottle our range starts at a very reasonable £24 and goes up to £80. We also have sparkling wines ranging from £75 to £300.
What has been your most surprising wine pairing of all time?
I think the most surprising was the Nachbil Grünspitz (an orange wine from Transylvania) with a dish of carrots, curds and whey. The wine is made from the really tiny, thick-skinned Grünspitz grape and it's aged on the skins for about nine months. It has complex, earthy minerality and a lovely, pithy zestiness, like Seville orange marmalade, which cut through the creaminess of the curds like a dream. It was one of those pairings I was really nervous about because it's such an unusual wine, but our guests really loved it. That makes my job so fulfilling.
How do you encourage guests to try something a bit different?
By adding the more unusual wines to our Taster menu, I can subtly coerce people to climb out of their comfort zones. We have some guests who love to experiment and there are those who stick firmly to what they know. I am insanely passionate about wine and I am so impressed by what winemakers are doing right now. I want to share that passion with other people and expose them to something a bit different where I can.
Besides wine, what other drinks are popular at Copper & Ink?
We sell a lot of cocktails. I usually tend the bar at weekends and the number of cocktails I make can be insane. The big sellers for us right now are espresso martinis, negronis and brambles – it seems the classics never go out of style.
Have you noticed a change in spending habits since reopening in July?
Definitely. I think people are enjoying their freedom and seem to be having more pre-dinner drinks than they used to. However, I've also definitely noticed an increase in more non-alcoholic drinks being consumed at lunchtime.
What's the best feedback you've ever had about a wine you suggested?
Weirdly, I love it when people tell me a wine is ‘bonkers'! I love challenging perceptions when it comes to wine and wine pairing and if I can inspire a reaction like that, then I feel like I've done my job.
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